Biden world sees more swing states at play in 2024 than in 2020

Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee have aired ads there as well as in former President Donald Trump’s home base of Florida, where an amendment to restore abortion rights could be on the ballot next fall. And after this week’s election in solidly red Ohio, where voters defeated a proposal designed to restrict abortion rights, a handful in Biden’s orbit have begun to dream a little bit bigger: thinking that state could maybe, just maybe, be in play.

“I never count out Ohio,” said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, a close ally of Biden’s. “What you saw [this week] in terms of Ohio is that fairness won out.”

Becca Siegel, a senior adviser leading the Biden campaign’s data and analytics efforts, said the team’s goal at this early stage in the race is to “maximize the chances of reaching 270” electoral votes in whatever way it can.

It’s an approach that the Biden operation also took in 2020, she said, when it put states like Georgia and Arizona on their list of possibilities even though that shortest path to winning was flipping back the Rust Belt states that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. She said the strategy is designed to protect against uncertainty: in both polling as well as in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — the states Trump unexpectedly flipped in 2016. Biden went on to take those battlegrounds back last election, as well as Georgia and Arizona.

Strategists in Biden world are clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning in Florida and Ohio — few share Weingarten’s optimism about the Buckeye State and others say Florida is wishful thinking. Both states, once the ultimate battlegrounds (Barack Obama won them both, twice), have moved decisively to the right in recent cycles.

Instead, the president’s map begins with that trio of Rust Belt states he took back from Trump, according to five sources close to the Biden campaign who were granted anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. They think the Sun Belt states of Georgia, Arizona and Nevada are also among the top toss-ups.

They also foresee a likely rematch with Trump.

“Will it probably just be the same states? Yeah, probably,” said one of the people close to the Biden campaign.

But, the source added, the “abortion issue is alive and well” and gives the Biden campaign a certain advantage: “You have an abortion referendum in places like Florida and Ohio. Well, that makes you take a good look at things. … Maybe all of a sudden Ohio is in play.”

The White House has spent more than two-and-a-half years zeroing in on the states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, repeatedly dispatching the president and top advisors to union halls and construction sites there.

But there are questions about the blue wall’s sturdiness. A round of recent polling shows Biden in a dead heat with Trump in the three battlegrounds.

An Emerson College poll of Michigan voters released last week found Biden and Trump each at 44 percent, with Trump sneaking ahead if Green Party candidate Cornel West is on the ticket. A Marquette Law School survey released the week before showed Wisconsin voters a 50-50 split between Biden and Trump. And a Pennsylvania poll by Quinnipiac University released a month prior told a similar story, with Trump edging Biden 47-46, though it was well within the margin of error.

Those tasked with securing the president a second term are not overly worried, but they admit that the race will be tight. They argue that Biden’s legislative record, his leadership on the world stage, and the economic growth coming out of the pandemic will help propel him to another win. They also believe that Trump’s legal challenges, litany of scandals and MAGA positions will alienate swing voters.

At the same time, they acknowledge Trump’s strength in those swing states, particularly among white working-class voters. Trump has also picked up support among union workers, despite Biden’s close relationship with organized labor. And all three of the Rust Belt states feature large cities, including Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee, where Biden needs to reverse a drop in enthusiasm in both young voters and Black voters, particularly men.

“In the midterms and throughout elections this year, we’ve seen that President Biden’s message is the winning one for 2024. That said, we fully expect this to be a competitive election and will take nothing for granted,” said Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for the Biden campaign. “We must earn every American’s vote, which is why we’re already investing in our battlegrounds and key voting blocs.”

Of the three Rust Belt states, the people close to the Biden campaign feel the most confident about Michigan. But even they don’t think it is a sure thing. Pennsylvania, many believe, will be closer. Biden has spent more time there than any other swing state and hails from neighboring Delaware. But Trump showed remarkable strength with white working-class voters in the state, and Biden did not quite meet projections with that same group in 2020, according to two sources familiar with internal campaign data.

In fact, some in Biden’s orbit believe that demographics indicate Pennsylvania may be where Ohio was ten years ago, only growing more challenging for Democrats with each passing cycle. Others are less bearish, pointing to wins by Gov. Josh Shapiro and Sen. John Fetterman in 2022 as proof of strong momentum in the state.

Wisconsin, most of the sources believe, will be the closest state on the map and quite possibly the race’s tipping-point state. Arizona, those people think, will likely be next, followed by Georgia and Nevada.

Georgia, though, could be more challenging depending on the nominee. Some close to the president believe that it arrived as a swing state ahead of schedule and only Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket puts it in play — especially if coverage of his likely election interference trial there saturates the state. Another Republican, in their view, likely carries it.

But there are differing takes on that front. The senior Biden campaign official disagreed, saying that Georgia is in play even if other Republicans win the nomination. And broadly speaking, the person argued that it is too early to have too firm of opinions about what the map will look like next November.

Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who was a senior advisor to Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, said a big question for Biden is whether his base returns to him.

“Does he recover his footing with younger voters, with non-white voters? Can he get those numbers back up?” he said. “If not, it makes states like North Carolina and Nevada really tough for him.”

Trump, he said, faces his own challenges. “For Trump, can he improve his standing with independents? My sense is that he has not so far. If he can’t, due to reminders of January 6, then you could see Pennsylvania fall off the map, maybe Arizona and Georgia get tougher, too.”

Not every Democrat is dreaming of new paths to 270 electoral votes. Jim Messina, who served as then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign manager and has at times informally advised Biden, said that 2024 will feature “the smallest map in the history of American politics.” That’s a reflection, he added, “of two candidates who are so well-known and the increased political tribalism” in the country in recent years.

Though polls suggest concerns about Biden’s age and a lack of enthusiasm even among voters who like him, the president’s team is confident in their chances in a second round with Trump.

And abortion, they think, will be key. They expect it to drive turnout, including among suburban women and voters who may be lukewarm to the president.

When Roe v. Wade was struck down, “there was a huge shock of ‘Oh my god, this really happened. They really took away a right.’ And as these states have been more and more extremist, you’re seeing more women and families wondering why their government is taking rights away from them,” said Weingarten. “I do think it is expanding the map.”

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